Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
At the center of the gospel this Divine Mercy Sunday we see the unfolding of the drama of the apostle Thomas: “Until I see, I will not believe” – says Thomas (cf. Jn 20,25). Within his stubborness is hidden more than just a hardness of heart. Incredibly, doubting Thomas gives us an important lesson in faith. That is, that christianity is not an idea, but an encounter with a living person. That person is Jesus Christ.
We truly must learn from Thomas’ desire to encounter the living Jesus personally. Mother Teresa once wrote to her sisters: “I worry some of you still have not really met Jesus—one to one—you and Jesus alone. <…> Do you really know the living Jesus—not from books but from being with Him in your heart? <…> Ask for the grace, He is longing to give it. <…> He thirsts for you. He loves you always, even when you don’t feel worthy. When not accepted by others, even by yourself sometimes, He is the one who always accepts you.”
How often we think that we need some special accomplishments so that God accepts us, in order to earn His favor and love. In her Diary, Saint Faustina writes, that we must draw God’s mercy with the vessel of trust (Diary, 1487-89). God’s mercy is infinite, but if we bring a very small vessel of trust, we can draw only a very limited amount of mercy. There is an anxiety in our hearts, we do not believe in the promises God has given us. We constantly worry about what will happen today, tomorrow, for what awaits us in the future and in eternity. Sometimes it seems, our hearts are vessels containing worry instead of trust.
Brothers and sisters, the only true peace is found being close to God. God is not an idea, He is the Living One, and our life comes from His Love. Let us look at this image. Jesus himself, not St. Faustina, wanted that this picture be painted. Of course, Faustina was obedient, she sought out the means needed to fulfill the Lord’s request, the desire that came from the depths of Jesus’ heart. However why did Jesus want His picture painted? Not simply so that it could be hung in His Father’s house.
Through this image Jesus wants to remind us, that he is a person, not an idea. He wants to remind us, that he always takes the first step towards us, thirsting for a real and living encounter. Jesus said to Thomas: look at me, touch me, I am alive (cf. Jn 20,27). Through His apparition to Saint Faustina and the request that His image be painted, He now says to us: look at me, I am alive, I am.
However, even looking at the image that Jesus himself requested, we understand, that it is only a painting, even while it reminds us of the important truth of the person of Jesus and his mercy. How then can we encounter the Risen Jesus and actually touch Him, so that we can experience that joy and peace?
In today’s gospel three times we hear Jesus’ words: “Peace be with you!” These words are not simply a greeting, rather they are the gift itself. Just think, we often give someone a gift and then in the card we write them our greetings and wishes, expressing that which we would like to give them, but that goes beyond our capacities: good health, luck, peace, God’s blessings. Jesus, however, does not need to wish them peace, he gives them the gift of peace.
And He does it – gives them the gift of peace. How does he give it to them? “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.” (Jn 20, 21-23)
Pope Francis wrote, that the Sacrament of Reconcilliation is the occassion, when we can reach out and touch the grandeur of mercy with our own hands (Misericordiae Vultus, 17). Sometimes we are afraid, that our sins are too great, that there are so many, or that they are too frequent. We think: “How often can Jesus forgive me, if I am so lax in changing my ways, repeating the the same sins over and over?” But Jesus, present in the confessional, says to us: “Take your hand and touch my side. Look at how infinite the wound of my mercy is. In it can be immersed all the sins of the world and it still would not be filled.” When we confess our sins to a priest, by the working of the Holy Spirit through the Church, we receive forgiveness and experience the gift of God’s peace.
In the Gospel we read that Jesus enters through locked doors. Which doors? They are not only the doors to the room in which the apostles had gathered. They are the gates of paradise, which were closed, when Adam and Eve through their sins were banished from paradise. In committing sin, they separated themselves from a closeness to God. The gates of paradise were closed and an cherubim with a flaming revolving sword was posted to guard them (cf. Gen 3,24). The doors to God’s closeness are locked, but Jesus gives Peter, that is the Church, the keys, so that from now on the Church can open them for those who are willing to receive God’s mercy.
During every mass we hear the priest’s trust filled prayer: “Lord Jesus Christ, you said to your apostles: I leave you peace, my peace I give you. Look not on our sins, but on the faith of your Church, and grant us the peace and unity of your kingdom where you live for ever and ever.”
And what happens then? The priests’ hands break the Host and we receive the Bread from Heaven, Christ himself, Mercy itself. Our body is united with the body of Christ and our soul – with the soul of Christ. The gift that exceeds all other gifts.
Brothers and sisters, Jesus’ words in today’s gospel: “Peace be with you!” is not simply a greeting or well wishes. It is a deep and great truth. Jesus reconciles heaven and earth, people with God, giving us the opportunity to enter once again into a closeness with God and to experience a true peace of the heart and God’s rest. To experience them here and now, although not perfectly, as we will when we enter the Father’s house.
Let us pray, that the Mother of God be the Mother of our faith. Through the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary may the Holy Spirit make our hearts deep vessels of trust, suitable to receive God’s mercy and witness it to others. Amen.
Divine Mercy Sunday, 8th April 2018
The Shrine of Divine Mercy in Vilnius, Lithuania